Tuesday, 18 February 2020

This and That

'In commodity-determined society, the objectifications of one's labor are means by which goods produced by others are acquired; one labors in order to acquire other products... Labor, in other words, becomes a peculiar means of acquiring goods in commodity-determined society; the specificity of the producers' labor is abstracted from the products they acquire with their labor... This is quite different from social formations in which commodity production and exchange do not predominate, where the social distribution of labor and its products is effected by a wide variety of customs, traditional ties, overt relations of power, or, conceivably, conscious decisions... In a society characterized by the universality of the commodity form, however... Labor itself constitutes a social mediation in lieu of overt social relations.' - Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social domination, CUP, p.151.

---

Too much dirt, too much moss. Off to the wash.

Brown skin. Roma?

What service? Just the outside.

The blast of a power hose ripples a sheet of water across the windows. I sit inert, caught by a slow, uncomfortable feeling.  

Shine my shoes, boy.

They need the work. And yet...


I wring my hands; they wring their cloths.

Eight pounds - a tenner handed over. 'Keep the change'.

A thumbs-up to the gangmaster who might - just might - have not received such appreciation from others.

More cars queuing up - more splash and spray.

They disappear from my rearview mirror. Exit stage left. Change the channel. New scenes, new actors.

In what script will they next be featured in, after the day's work is done?


---

When the Body has been dislocated and dismembered, can the parts take root in anything but the gravel of Mammon?

Sunday, 16 February 2020

The Grundrisse and the Critique of Value

Marx's Grundrisse is a lengthy collection of notes he made before writing Capital that provides different angles to his masterpiece on the nature of capitalism. It was only published in 1939, with a full English translation not appearing until 1973. The late Moishe Postone, author of the seminal Time, Labor, and Social Domination (CUP, 1993), summarised the distinctiveness of the Grundrisse well in that volume:
It is easier to decipher than Capital, which is subject to misunderstanding inasmuch as it is structured in a tightly logical manner as an immanent critique - that is, one undertaken from a standpoint that is immanent to, rather than outside, its object of investigation. Because the Grundrisse is not structured as rigorously, the general strategic intent of Marx's categorial analysis is more accessible, particularly in those sections where he presents his conception of the primary contradiction of capitalist society. (p.21)
Capital builds its analysis layer-by-layer from the core concept of the commodity with its dual nature of exchange and use value: it is only as volume 1 progresses that the nature of labour power, labour time, and class struggle are gradually unfolded one by one. The Grundrisse, by contrast, discusses these elements in general in various combinations, creating a quite different feel to the work. Most significantly for Postone and the value-criticism stream of thought he influenced, the Grundrisse makes much more overt a theme of capital as a historically-specific form of reified social mediation, the consequences of which for theories of capitalism can be found in more succinct form in this essay.

There are other fascinating nuggets to be unearthed from the text, such as the famous 'fragment on machines', with its apparent prediction of automation causing the final crisis of capitalism, which Ben Reynolds explores here.

It's something to dip in and out of rather than necessarily to read straight through, but the Grundrisse has proved fertile ground for a rethinking of Marx's core concepts, and it deserves attention for what it has to say about the sheer power that Mammon has over social relations in post-industrial capitalist society.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Towards a Christian Critical Theory

Dialectic of Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer is a foundational text of Critical Theory, the use of the social sciences to critique the oppressive structures and systems of contemporary society. It's also a tough read, despite its relatively short length (258 pages in my Verso edition), but, in my view, one that is ultimately worthwhile.

In nuce, Adorno and Horkheimer sought to critique Enlightenment thought, a rationalising and quantifying outlook that seeks to dominate the earth through the use of science and technology. Far from escaping the superstitions of pre-modern myth, enlightenment thought, as an outlook that includes, but goes beyond, the historical movement of the 18th century, is a continuation of myth insofar as myth also sought to dominate the world and societies, although by prescribing unquestionable values and hierarchies rooted in a supposedly natural or divine order. Fascism, then, is the logical product of Enlightenment, and not its negation.

It's a pretty sweeping project that leaves little of modern civilization uncriticised. Adorno and Horkheimer give no indication about what can or should be done, perhaps because Leftist projects, too, are themselves products of Enlightenment thought and method. Some would echo the sentiments of the late ex-Marxist Leszek Kolakowski, who, after generally lambasting the text for equating enlightenment with anything the authors didn't like, opined that the book's 'final response to the human condition can only be an inarticulate cry' (Main Currents of Marxism 3. The Breakdown, OUP, p.380).

To many Christians today Critical Theory in general is an object of immense suspicion, as that which apparently seeks to overthrow the Christian family and societal order. But even apart from the fact that Adorno's own views on the family were not as negative as some are led to believe, I think there is something of value to be found in his broader project, as bracing as it is. For the Bible itself presents a thoroughly pessimistic verdict on the wisdom of the world.
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” (1 Cor 3:18-20)
In fact, the entire sweep of 1 Cor 1-3 gives us a masterclass in the critical demolition of worldly wisdom, identifying such a radical project as a key reason for the crucified form that God's salvation has taken in order to shame and bring to nothing the worldly-wise and strong.

The wisdom the Bible speaks of is not technical knowledge, such as how to prepare a particular meal, how to repair a car, or performing other similarly neutral tasks under worldly authority (1 Peter 2:18), but is the knowledge required to take actions of righteousness and justice as the Bible would define those acts and concepts (Proverbs chs.1-9). To lack this wisdom will lead to unrighteous and unjust acts, as demonstrated by the spiritual powers behind worldly governments in Psalm 82. On these principles, even the attempt to act righteously and justly will be distorted into evil if true wisdom is not sought and used (Prov 8:15-16).

The church has often been tempted to find some basis for taking or participating in worldly power in the Old Testament law, which was indeed the standard of wisdom and righteousness for its time, and could be recognised as such by the world at large due to its commonalities with other nations' own wisdom in methods of governance (Deut 4:5-8). But now that the NT Kingdom is proclaimed as the much more splendorous standard of God's kingdom in place of the obsolete source material of the OT law (Luke 16:16; 2 Cor 3:7-11; Heb 8) in order to shame down the world's wisdom and strength and bring its power to nothing (Luke 16:15; 1 Cor 1:18-31; 3:18-20; 4:20; cf.1 Cor 2:10-14), any attempt to turn back to that which was a shadow must be shamed as a worldly frame of mind that seeks to overcome the world's problems through force and worldly power (Romans 13) rather than through the apparent weakness of God's Kingdom that is foolish to the world - a Kingdom that does not as yet judge those outside it, doesn't judge its members by force or gain new ones by force, and seeks material equality between its members (Sermons on the Mount and Plain; Mark 8:34-36; Luke 20:25; 22:25-30; John 18:36; Rom 8:31-39; 14:7; 1 Cor 1; 4:20; 5-6; 2 Cor 5:18-20; 8:13-14; 10:3-5). Lacking the true wisdom of the New Covenant, this use of the OT law (which the Ante-Nicene Fathers also affirmed was of primary applicability only during the OT era) to seek what is strong in the world will be used by the spiritual powers who were and are behind all the injustices and crimes we see throughout the history of various Christendoms and other kingdoms (Ps 2; 82; 1 Cor 2:6-8; 15:24-26; Eph 2:2; 3:10; 6:12).

Unlike non-Christian Critical Theory, a Christian critique of worldly power will not be used to seek enforced change or overthrow of the present order (Rom 13), which would be a use of worldly wisdom in itself*. It will, however, act as a witness against the foolishness of worldly kingdoms even as God uses them for some good for Christians until Christ returns and the true revolution begins.

Towards this end, some elements of non-Christian Critical Theory can be appropriated by the church. Critique doesn't necessarily require wisdom, as Biblically defined: it can be a simple identification of particular dynamics at work within a system, whether correctly interpreted or not. A Christian Critical Theory can use such material without abandoning an orthodox conception of marriage or the family, while being thoughtful as to how modernity has shaped those realities. Such will involve a radical questioning of many worldly systems and priorities, including (but not limited to) capitalism, communism, democracy, progress, the mass media, technology, labour, imperialism and racism. To fail to do so will usually lead to absorption and use by the powers behind these systems and concepts to the detriment of the church's witness and gospel call.

More can be said and clarified, and I can't claim to have all the answers. But I would suggest that what I've outlined would be the right footing to start with if we are not to conform to the world but are to develop minds that evidence genuine transformation.

---

* The notorious Anglo-Catholic theologian John Milbank is neither particularly orthodox or right-minded with regards to the faith and political theology. But his 1990 work Theology and Social Theory contains some interesting and often convincing readings of various theorists and philosophers. This extract in particular captures something of the impasse that non-Christian theory can reach in the work of those like Deleuze, Foucault and (I would add) Baudrillard, even as their work contains important insights:
Yet all the recent French neo-Nietzscheans, if not Nietzsche and Heidegger, are loath to renounce the emancipatory claim, and are therefore doomed to smuggle back into their philosophies an ahistorical Kantian subject who is the bearer of freedom... The neo-Nietzscheans cannot, in consequence, wriggle out of the implication that, while nihilism may be 'the Truth', it is at the same time the truth whose practical expression must be fascism. (2nd ed., Blackwell, p.279)

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

On Waitrose

The old people who shop in Waitrose look different to those you see in Aldi. They're sleeker, the ladies' hair shaped into neat grey bobs rather than blonde-dyed mop-wigs. The men wear designer glasses and don't seem to expectorate as much as their more shambolic counterparts. It's as if they have emerged from shiny cryogenic chambers in a darkened back room of the supermarket, instantly striding out into the aisles of organic dairy and vegetables with implanted memories of many years' work in the City, of many dinner parties, of the children leaving home for university.

The green shield of the Prince of Wales Duchy brand is on a number of the products. Perhaps Charles himself has walked among the cows that gave their milk; perhaps he has breathed over this bag of flour.

At the checkout you can take the Waitrose newspaper, the front page of which reports the new partnership with John Lewis in co-producing their latest Christmas advert. The columnists opine on the foibles of middle-class life; films and music are reviewed. A golden collander can be purchased for ten pounds. It could be used in a kitchen with a cooker hood suspended over an island centre, used to wash parsnips by a woman wearing a bright red apron as the strains of Classic FM's Christmas Countdown waft around in the soft amber of the uplighting.

Does everyone think 'I'm shopping at Waitrose' when they shop at Waitrose? Do they look at me and think 'He's shopping at Waitrose?' when I shop at Waitrose? If I didn't do the bulk of our shopping at Aldi, and came over to Waitrose for more than a few inconsistently ethical goods, would I still think 'I'm shopping at Waitrose' when I shop at Waitrose?



Thursday, 23 January 2020

A Week

Propanolol.

They don't know why it happens, at least internally. They used to say it was blood vessels constricting, but now they say it's something to do with chemicals in the brain getting out of balance. But they still don't know why that happens or how.


Propanolol.

Paracetamol.

It's like a needle when it really kicks in, when the pharmaceutical defenses don't work for some reason, or when I have to forgo them to detox from the painkiller build-up. Or a knife or a pickaxe, jammed into my left or right brow.


Propanolol.

I'll be sick eventually, which provides enough relief after hours of trying to writhe away from my own skull to make it worth triggering by my own hand. As if all I've eaten in the day is too much for my brain to handle, as if the only option is to eject, re-boot and re-load.


Propanolol.

Amitriptyline.

It doesn't seem to be diet, or stress, or caffeine. It's light, largely: the overpowering glare of the summer sun, or the harsh yellow of a fluorescent strip, or the slow pressure of a computer screen.


Propanolol.

Is this a thorn in the flesh? A messenger from Satan that I've asked more than three times to be taken away?

Who sinned? This man or his parents?


Propanolol.

Amitriptyline.

Zolmitriptan.

Even when the drugs work, as they usually do, I'll still feel wiped out, as if cast up on the shore, shaky and sometimes breathless. It's been the cost of having no trade, of stumbling into jobs that involve staring at the Machine after studying things of little economic use.


Propanolol.

Given numerals to exchange for the goods my family needs. Looking for screenless work to obtain numerals from other sources. Deprived of numerals for taking more days than contractually allowed to pick myself up off the shore and sit back in front of the screen.


Propanolol.

Amitriptyline.

More numerals required. Health assessment. Part-time hours.

A taint in the air? Antibiotics in the milk? Plastic in the blood?

Kept at a low enough level of health to cope?

Propanolol.

Life in all its fullness. Taedium vitae.

I am torn between the two.


Propanolol.

Amitriptyline.

Propanolol.


Propanolol. 

Amitriptyline.

Zolmitriptan. 

Friday, 17 January 2020

For Such a Time as This

[The Bible contains] such profound understanding of urban reality that it appears to be taken from an observation of our modern cities. The consciousness is there of the city as a world for which man was not made... Working with what was not yet the monster-city, the Holy Spirit brought to man's knowledge the reality of what he was undertaking, which was only to become a reality centuries and centuries later. (Jacques Ellul, The Meaning of the City, Wipf and Stock, p. 42)
The whole of our history bears witness to this machinery of reason, which is itself now coming apart. Our culture of meaning is collapsing beneath the excess of meaning, the culture of reality collapsing beneath the excess of reality, the information culture collapsing beneath the excess of information - the sign and reality sharing a single shroud. (Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, Verso, p. 17)
I believe there are two broad options for the church if it does not embark on a truly radical critique of the kingdoms of the world. One is to accept the facets of modern society as basically neutral, if not good, developments, that could be harnessed to greater or lesser degrees for the church's mission. Political liberalism, democracy, capitalism, the mass media, post-industrial labour: we can simply accept these realities as given, be wary of the bad products that emerge from them, and continue to live as Christians within them as fish swim in water. Some would believe those concepts 'worked better' when Western societies were supposedly more Christian in ethics and law, and that we need to return to that state of things for the concepts listed to be beneficial (a notion not completely unlike the Marxist doctrine of base and superstructure, ironically enough).

Another option is to critique these pillars of the modern world, looking back further to a time of absolute monarchies and feudal arrangements. This would be the kind of nostalgia traditionally evoked by Roman Catholics like J.R.R. Tolkien Hilaire Belloc, and, to some extent (Orthodoxy expresses a love of democracy), G.K. Chesterton. I don't know how far the (Protestantish) Peter Leithart would go, but his institution is certainly willing to air anti-capitalist views that highlight how capitalism has played a major role in the breakdown of traditional ethics and standards. It's also worth considering the example of T.S. Eliot in this regard.

When I was in my Christendom-favouring phase, it was this second stream of thought that held more appeal to me. For one thing, it meshes better with the political world of the Bible, which contains not a trace of democratic or liberal theory to be developed and applied. For another, the destructive power of capitalism seems so obvious to me that I'm amazed that many who lament the loss of 'Christian values' in the West can't see the connections. For those puzzled or even angered by my promotion of aspects of Karl Marx's thought, it is here that his work has proved to be most useful to me, precisely as a critique of political economy rather than as a blueprint for communism (which he wrote barely anything about anyway). He was a pagan, of course, but that doesn't make his analysis any less worth considering than the diganosis of a non-Christian (or even anti-Christian) doctor.

The blindness in the Church to the effects of capital can be seen in the more beige acceptance of modernity evidenced among many Reformed Baptists, who would encourage their congregants to vote according to the propaganda offered by the mass media rather than thinking about and critiquing the system as a whole. But it's most obvious in those influenced by the Reconstructionists, who in their zeal for the Puritans laud the supposedly glorious societal progress and wealth pioneered by Protestant nations.

This reaches absurd depths when the OT law is appealed to as a model for an economy, as in Joe Boot's book The Mission of God, where he derides those who would see the Jubilee year as a model for socialism and (rightly) emphasises that it in fact involved family land being returned to the families who owned it (p. 239-244). And yet, through a spectacular sleight-of-hand, he translates this into a model for handing on family 'assets' within a capitalist economy, a very different arrangement where most people are not land owners and only a privileged class own land, much of which was seized from the peasants who had held it in common. The far-reaching effects of this drastic change from a society based primarily around family or community land rights to one centred around private property and financial assets are not explored, nor the puzzle of how Boot reconciles his broadly democratic outlook (he emphasises that his Christendom would be demanded by the converted masses, rather than imposed upon them) with the fact that the Christendom the Reformers and Puritans inherited had been forcibly imposed from its conception and continued to be imposed through colonial expansion.

The two approaches I've outlined - pre-modern nostalgia and modernist triumphalism - do of course crossover. I've met a few Reformed Baptists in my time who probably secretly wish they could be Anglicans, if only on aesthetic grounds. They might affirm the rightness of democracy, constitutional rights and free markets, but they may also admire the monarchy, sometimes pine for some liturgy, and often adore The Lord of the Rings. I don't mean to sneer, as I fully sympathise (perhaps most with the second desire), having gone one better and actually become an Anglican for a few years for similar reasons. The richness of the Anglican aesthetic (largely inherited from (a version of) Roman Catholicism) is quite a bit more satisfying than the now technologically-mediated bareness of a non-conformist service, the graphically-designed corporate aesthetic of the relevant umbrella organisations, or the weary bureaucracy of constitionally-governed church polity, and so it's no surprise that there can be some dabbling across denominational lines.

My own enthusiasm for Christendom was itself based on a sort of aesthetic Romanticism, a nostalgia exemplified by the genesis of Anglo-Catholicism in the 19th century. Although this needn't be political (and, as mentioned, can be held in tandem with faith in the modern theories that undermined the hierarchies behind those aesthetics), it demonstrates Barthes's point in Mythologies that the right have a much more powerful stock of myths than the left to draw on. Perhaps I'd modify that to a binary of nostalgic Romanticism and modernism, with what passes for 'the Right' these days able to skilfully weave together a mix of the two. This can be seen in the increasing militarisation of the UK popular imagination, where the ritualism and carnival of Remembrance Sunday provides a new religion based on the unquestioned rightness and heroism of military service.

To actually touch on the two extracts I started with, I think there's a dire need for Christians to place ourselves correctly in history, without which we are bound to misread the signs of the times. I may feel completely out of sorts with how the world has become, but the answer is not to look back to a previous age, to attempt to build my identity in whole or part off idealised simulations like Tolkien's works*. Such could only be a sort of partial escapism that helps sweeten the pill of everyday existence in our present-day Babylon. If taken seriously as political inspiration, it would be impossible to jam an absolute monarch on top of the swirling  fragments of capitalist society whose only master can be the valorisation of value - and to try and revert to feudalism or something like it could only result in millions of deaths by this stage.

And yet this doesn't entail accepting modernity's illusions either. It means living for a different Kingdom with different values, not seeking to belong to any age - whether bygone or present - but the age to come. Only in this way can Christianity become something more relevant than ever, rather than a futile exercise in propping up the status quo or wishing for a legendary past that never existed and never will.

---

* I'm not saying that Tolkien shouldn't be read and enjoyed. I was never a super-fan as some are, although he was a big inspiration for my younger fantasy-writing ambitions. These days his world strikes me as largely Christendom nostalgia, and the beautiful whites/Westerners/Crusaders vs. ugly darks/Easterners/Saracens subtexts are indeed problematic, as they say, although I can't deny his books' general literary beauty and worth. There are some similar problems with the Narnia books, although less so, and they mean more to me now than Tolkien. But these days I'd turn most to George MacDonald for classic fantasy: he influenced both Tolkien and Lewis, but the feudal fantasy tropes are very much in the background while the stories are no less moving.

Again, it's not my intention to sneer, as I still have many affinities with Romantic nostalgia. I love gothic architecture as compared to modernist abominations for pretty much the reasons John Ruskin wrote about so well in The Work of Iron. It's why, for me, William Morris is a more sympathetic socialist than Marx: I really appreciate Morris's desire to make beautiful things in the face of a world of mass production. In many ways I'd see myself as something of a 'conservative radical' along similar lines.

And yet I can't bind myself up in an identity based on the past as Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites attempted to do in some fashion (hilariously, my desire to do so at one time involved pondering which PRB paintings I could hang up on my walls - simulations of simulations). My favourite poem, Keats's 'Ode to a Nightingale', expresses perfectly the Romantic dilemma of seeking eternal beauty in this world and yet being unable to fully attain it or become one with it. Any attempt to entrench myself in some nostalgic identity could only be an illusory role-play that, at worst, would lead me to white-wash the grim truth of the past and that of the present, as Tolkien displayed in his approval of Franco.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Ellul and Baudrillard

Jacques Ellul's endorsement of Baudrillard in The Humiliation of the Word has spurred me to re-read some sections of that work. Ellul was not shy of skewering the pretensions of other French intellectuals like Deleuze and Guattari in the same volume, so the fact that he was willing to endorse the notoriously opaque Baudrillard was notable to me. I was keen to see if Ellul's own theories of the image and reality had any parallels to Baudrillard's work in light of this, and have found some interesting similarities.

Ellul's description of the image's effect certainly sounds a lot like Baudrillard's concept of hyperreality: 'Sight permits a representation of reality that is accepted as reality and identified with it. Images become unquestionable, just as reality is. This happens because images become more real than reality itself' (p.116); '...this "reality" is really fiction - literally simulated, depicted' (p.228). Both Humiliation and Simulacra and Simulation were originally published in 1981, so it seems unlikely that Ellul got these ideas directly from Baudrillard [N.B. I have since discovered that Baudrillard first introduced the concept of simulation in his 1976 Symbolic Exchange and Death, so Ellul may well have picked this up from him]. Interestingly, both works also discuss icons in not dissimilar ways as images which seek to simulate the divine for their users, although Ellul then goes on to make a value judgement by suggesting that devotional use (rather than background, 'signpost' use) of icons will always be idolatrous.

They're even not that far apart in denigrating 'reality' as something of dubious value or utility. If you can look past the occasional bad language, this fellow's summaries of many of Baudrillard's books and essays are excellent. By listening to his expositions of The Evil Demon of Images and the later The Perfect Crime, I've hopefully clarified Baudrillard's use of 'reality'. Contrary to what some might assume, he didn't believe simply in a 'real' or 'authentic' world distorted or falsified by images: it seems he argued that 'the real' is always a simulated illusion as that which is filtered through the human mind, language, and artwork, a primary reality which images then take as the material for their own simulated hyperreality.

In this way there is no 'getting back to nature', a concept that is embedded within a web of illusory bifurcations and constructions. This is probably what would classify Baudrillard as postmodern rather than modern. He attempts to construct some kind of guidance for action in dividing simulations into those that are oppressive and those that aren't, but I think that begs the question as to why, within his framework, the non-oppressive forms of simulation are neccessarily 'better' than the oppressive, a question someone like theorist of nihilist-capitalism Nick Land would push hard. Into the category of oppressive simulations of reality Baudrillard groups the entirety of globalised technological/scientific civilization, painting it as a totalising reality that can bear no dissent in a way comparable to Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Ellul uses similar categories but in a different way. He distinguishes between 'reality' and 'truth', the former term referring to the visual world of the image, the second only to the realm of the word, which can alone supply meaning to reality. For Ellul, then, 'reality' is not equal to 'truth': it is simply what is, without meaningful interpretation. The great danger is when we assume that reality, as embodied in the image, is truth, that the instant and instinctual emotions it summons up within us is truth. But the image gives no space for reflection, for true thought and dialogue: it simply bludgeons us into knee-jerk response without true meaning. Ellul explicitly describes this as 'technique' - the tendency towards totalising maximum efficency as described in his classic The Technological Society.


It is this instantaneous aspect of the image that Baudrillard expounds on to suggest that the hyperreal will ultimately be the ultimate realisation of 'reality', rather than its effacement: in other words, in its perpetual effort to categorise everything scientifically, our civilization could reach a point where thought could become nothing but the supposed recording of 'bare reality' through computer lenses and code, with no need for any other interpretation or meaning. This, of course, would be the ultimate oppression, the dominance of technique that Ellul feared.

The differences between the two (apart from the fact that Ellul is about ten times more comprehensible) lies in their views of the nature of language. For Baudrillard - as far as I can tell! - the development of language was the original simulation as that which re-presents the world through the medium of signs that are not inherently related to what they signify. He therefore seems to make the word nothing more than an element woven into constructed realities, nullifying its meta-truth-bearing potential.

Ellul, on the other hand, sees the word that expresses or explores truth as something distinct from reality, something that could potentially interpret or correctly supply meaning to reality, particularly when that Word is from a divine source beyond the swirling realities we inhabit. His theology is a mixed bag, but his excellent and remarkably civilization-sceptical biblical theology The Meaning of the City is pertinent here. In that work he interprets the advance of mankind's technologies in light of the judgement of the divine Word, but also in the hope that even the City, the ultimate place of man's rebellion and hubris, will be redeemed in the form of the New Jerusalem. Baudrillard would no doubt see this as another totalising version of reality that could seek to oppress: and yet, for Ellul, the very frailty and ambivalence of the word - not to mention the rejection of taking worldly authority his theology entails - pre-empts this oppressive potential.

We can only trust and hope that Ellul was right. Baudrillard was, in some strange ways, an optimist, but at the end of the day I found it hard to see how this was possible in the framework of his invigoratingly provocative analyses.